EDGAR ZUNIGA - Tuesday, November 20, 2007
That was closer than it should have been.
African teams are traditionally very athletic and physical, but usually lack accurate finishing. If South Africa would have capitalized on the many opportunities they generated in the second half, they would have completely overwhelmed the US.
In the last 45, you could tell the backline really missed the presence of Carlos Bocanegra, who started the game with the captain's armband. Bocanegra did his thing in the first half, and although the defense got off to a rough start, they were able to limit South Africa's chances and sparked a few runs in the other direction.
With Bocanegra out in the second half, things really changed, which makes it strange that the US Soccer Federation named Oguchi Onyewu their player of the game.
With all due respect, Onyewu seems to have plateaued and opposing teams are finding ways to exploit his weaknesses. That said, wouldn't you have given the MOTM nod to Steve Cherundolo for even having the gall to take that shot on goal? Especially when considering that drought in the second half...
While it's easier to sit here and criticize the performance of the US against Bafana Bafana, let's see...what are the positives...
Well, we won. That's always good, right? Alright, we took home the Nelson Madela Challenge trophy! Fire up the band!
But, was anybody really convinced with the National Team's performance in escaping with the 1-0 over a mediocre South Africa team? Sure, a win's a win, no matter how you cut it...but how many more of these games are we going to see?
South Africa hasn't been much of a threat since the mid to late '90s, when a racially united South Africa team rallied to qualify for World Cup '98. However, they haven't done much since then, and even now with famed Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira pulling the strings, it's hard to shake the feeling that toothless South Africa will become the first host to fail to advance to the second round of the World Cup.
When it comes to the US, no doubt, the team always plays World Class against Mexico, and then beats up on the smaller CONCACAF teams. But after World Cup 2002, we've been expecting better results from the US against teams outside of our region.
While mental errors and tactical mistakes cost us in Germany, overall, the team has been progressing, Now, with 2010 peeking over the horizon, it's about time the US steps on the accelerator and begins playing like the team they profess to be...or become.
Yes, beating teams away from the Western Hemisphere is always a good thing. However, scrapping to beat a depleted Switzerland 1-0, then barely holding on to beat a shaky South Africa by the same score raises some red flags.
Oh no! Sound the alarm!
Hold on a bit...with the US still a few months away from the beginning of World Cup qualifiers, Bob Bradley is still tinkering with the lineup, giving everyone and their third cousin an opportunity to show their stuff.
Are we to expect better results then? Not really. He's still experimenting. Remember Copa America?
At the very least - win or lose - the US is playing teams outside of CONCACAF on foreign soil, which is always a boon. Of course, the team could do better by scheduling games against stronger teams.
Some might argue that facing some of the world's soccer powers might stymie the team's confidence or stifle their progress. On the contrary, playing against harder opposition would serve to gauge where exactly the US stands on the world soccer totem pole, while providing the team with invaluable experience.
While we don't expect the US to march into England, France, Germany or Italy and plant the Stars and Stripes at midfield, it's better than scheduling games against teams that plan a national holiday around the visit of Team USA.
Well, if the US has to face weaker teams, they're not just expected to win-they're expected to score goals...and win by more than just one.
It's maddening to have to sit through games like the ones versus Switzerland and South Africa. There's always something missing...something that is keeping the US from shattering the glass ceiling separating them from FIFA's elite, and, until the team figures it out, we'll have to keep grinding our teeth whenever the US takes the field.